The Long ViewThe sorry joke is on us

Published 7 February 2006

The president’s proposed 2007 DHS budget contains a paltry $10 million for DHS’s role in enhancing chemical plant security. The money will be used for management of the new Chemical Site Security program. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), a sponsor with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) of the legislation to impose security standards on the chemical industry, yesterday called the $10 million “a woefully insufficient amount of money for this dangerous problem.” Liberman should be commended for his politeness.

We have written several times about this security scandal which the Bush administration has allowed to continue: Short of a direct nuclear attack on an American city, the 15,000 chemical plants in the United States pose the greatest mass-casualty risk to the U.S. population. Yet, through successful lobbying, hefty campaign contributions, and the machinations of Karl Rove, the president’s political adviser who is given to criticizing Democrats for having a “pre-9/11 mindset,” the industry has managed to escape the imposition of even minimal security measures. Instead, it has been allowed to follow what is euphemistically called “industry-developed, voluntary” security program, and what is non-euphemistically referred to as a joke. The American Chemistry Council, a leading industry group with 2,000 chemical facilities as members, says that its members have invested nearly $3 billion in security since 9/11 to adhere to an industry-developed set of voluntary security measures — note the adjectives “industry-developed” and “voluntary.” Sal DePasquale, a former security official with Georgia-Pacific Corp., who helped craft the industry-developed voluntary security code, calls it “window dressing.” He says investments in cameras, fencing, and network security are “a sorry joke” compared with the highly armed teams that guard nuclear plants. As we wrote a few weeks ago [HSDW 1/20/2006], the industry-developed security code is indeed nothing but window dressing — but even this window dressing proved too onerous for many of the plants: DHS estimates that 20 percent of the roughly 300 highest-risk chemical plants are not even signed up for the industry-developed voluntary program. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that more than one-hundred of these plants have reported that a worst-case scenario, such as a terrorist attack or a major accident, in any one of them could endanger more than one million people. More than three-hundred facilities reported that if such an event were to occur to them, more than 50,000 would be endangered.

Let us look at these numbers:

There are some 15,000 chemical plants in the United States;

100 of these plants reported that a terrorist attack or a major accident in any one of them could endanger more than one million people

300 plants reported that such an event in any one of them could endanger 50,000 people

There are no mandatory security measures these plants should follow;

Some of the 2,000 chemical plants which are part of the American Chemistry Council have invested $3 billion since 9/11 in buying rudimentary chain-link fences and video cameras in an effort which a chemical industry insider calls “window dressing” and “sorry joke”;

The chemical industry has contributed $27 million to political campaigns over the past four election cycles, 80 percent of it going to Republicans;

President Bush proposes $10 million in the 2007 DHS budget for enhancing the department’s role in increasing chemical plants’ security.

This is not post-9/11 mindset. This is recklessness.